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Hebrews 13:4- Marriage Is To Be Honored Among All Men

As we begin this morning I would ask each of you to imagine that you are at a wedding. Imagine that you are here to be a witness at a covenant made between a man and a woman. Because of this it is a weighty responsibility that all of us engage in when we become witnesses in a marriage. The minister has a weighty responsibility of administering the covenant that is being made. The parents of the bride and groom have the weighty responsibility of giving their blessing to the covenant that is being entered into by their kids. The bride and the groom have a weighty responsibility to prayerfully and carefully enter into that covenant which is for life until death do they part. And each of you, you are not merely observers of this moment. No, you are witness of that marriage covenant. Therefore, you also have a weighty responsibility to be there and give your approval and blessing of the marriage covenant that is being entered into.

Do you feel the weight, the importance, the consequence, the gravity, the seriousness of the moment that was just described?

It is usually in a moment just like this that I speak to all the people who had gathered at just such a wedding and I read to them Hebrews 13:4, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” (ESV) This is our text this morning.

I just read to you from the ESV but let’s take a moment to consider how the NKJV translates this verse, “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.”

Do you hear the difference between these two translations? (Read them again)

When you compare the NKJV and the ESV you will see that the translators have chosen different ways to translate this verse. The NKJV has translated this verse as three statements of fact. The NKJV says, “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” Do you hear the three statements of fact in that translation?

The ESV, on the other hand, translated this verse with two exhortations and then a reason is given as to why these exhortations are to be obeyed. It translates this verse by saying, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” Did you hear the two exhortations and then the reason for them given?

The reason that there is a difference between these translations is because there is no verb in the first two phrases of Hebrews 13:4. The only verb in this verse is in the last part of the verse, “God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous”.

Because there is no verb in the first two phrases the NKJV made the decision to translate these phrases as important facts that are to be accepted. The ESV, however, translates the first two phrases as exhortations that are to be obeyed. The importance of obeying these exhortations is then given when we are told that God will judge all those who are sexually immoral and adulterous.

It seems to me that in the day in which we live, a day in which biblical marriage is not honored, that the NKJV interpretation may weaken the way that we are to understand this verse. Perhaps there was a time when the culture heard these facts and immediately understood and believed. They quickly believed them to be true and they were willing to obey them. However, is that still the case today?

Today it may be more likely that instead of hearing these as facts that are admonishing us to honor marriage we may simply hear the author saying, “Marriage ought to be honored”. Instead of hearing the author exhort us to keep the marriage bed undefiled some may simply hear the author stating that ‘we ought to try to keep the marriage bed undefiled’. In other words, these facts may not carry the same weight today that they once did. Therefore, we need to see that this verse gives us more than just facts to consider; rather, we are given statements of truth that ought to be believed and obeyed because God will judge all adulterers and fornicators.

It is interesting that even thought the NKJV translates Hebrews 13:4 in this way they do not do this in Hebrews 13:5 even though the same circumstances are present. In the NKJV Hebrews 13:5 is translated as an exhortation that ought to be held firmly too which influences how we think and act. In Hebrews 13:5, as we will see next week. we are admonished concerning covetousness and the love of money. We are to not be covetous even as we live in a society which loves being covetous. We are expected to obey Hebrews 13:5 as we wage a battle against the increasing pressure we experience in this sinful and unbelieving culture in which we live (13:22).

Interestingly, in verse 5 the NKJV chooses to translate that verse, not as a fact to consider like they did in verse 4, but as an exhortation to immediately obey by faith through grace. For some reason the translators do something in verse 5 that they did not do at the beginning of the previous verse.

The NKJV translates Hebrews 13:5 as,‘Let your conversation (manner of life) be without covetousness…’. The italicized words were added by the translators of the NKJV to make it an exhortation. They did not simply make a statement of fact; rather, they made it an admonition and a strong entreaty that is to be obeyed. They did not simply say, “Your conversation (manner of life) ought to be without covetousness”; rather, they translated this verse as an exhortation that is to be responded to and obeyed, “Let your conversation (lifestyle) be without covetousness.

The ESV is being consistent when they translate both Hebrews 13: 4 & 5 as an exhortation, an admonishment and a command that is to be obeyed. The ESV says,

  • (We are to) Let marriage be held in honor among all (4)

  • (We are to) let the marriage bed be undefiled (4)

  • (We are to) keep our life free from love of money (5)

I think it is important to view Hebrews 13:4 as an exhortation and an admonition and not simply as a statement of concerning a truthful fact. This is because God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Compromise in these things can come so easy if we forget that one day God will judge us concerning these things. (Note: You often hear someone say, “History will judge harshly those people who today hold to strong biblical beliefs. This may be true because we live in an increasingly evil and faithless world. However, in the future we will all be judged but not by other people but by God Himself. John Flavel once wrote, ‘...if we escape the punishment of men, we will not escape the vengeance of God.’ This is where our attention needs to be.)

Honoring marriage and keeping the marriage bed undefliled is a serious issue that we need to consider reverently because there is a sober warning attached to it. God will judge those who dishonor marriage. God will judge those who defile the marriage bed. God will judge those who are fornicators and adulterers. Adultery refers to sexual sin that is committed while inside of a covenant marriage to someone. Fornication speaks of sexual sin that is done outside of the bounds of a biblical marriage.

As we read through Hebrews 13 we can see that there are positive and negative ramifications concerning each of the exhortations that are given, however, our passage today comes with the strongest warning if it is not obeyed.

  • We are to love one another but the author of Hebrews does not attach a warning if we fail to do so. Rather we are told that these things will please the LORD (13:1-3, 16) To disobey the exhortation given in Hebrews 13:4 does the opposite and it displeases God.

  • We are to not be covetous and a lover of money; instead we are to be content. However, the author of Hebrews does not attach a warning like what is found in Hebrews 13:4 if we fail to do so. (13:5-6)

  • We are to obey our leaders and imitate their faith. If we do this it will be advantageous to us and if we fail to do so it is to our disadvantage. However, the author of Hebrews does not motivate our obedience in this area with a warning like we are given in Hebrews 13:4. (13:7,17)

  • We are told to pray for others in 13:18-19. The author of Hebrews believes that through their prayers he might be restored to them sooner; however, he does not warn them that if they fail to do this God will judge them as he does in Hebrews 4.

In Hebrews 13:4 we are told to honor marriage and to hold firmly to the biblical view of marriage even when we experience pressure from within our immediate families, or our extended families, or our culture, or even within the visible church to accept or celebrate a marriage that is different than what the bible speaks about. Nor should the church reflect the same culture of divorce that our culture has. (Note: These Jewish Christians to whom this letter was written were facing pressure and persecution from every side. They felt it in their homes, their families, and their communities too. They had to not shrink back in the face of these things and neither should we.)

I have emphasized this to show the importance of the topic that we are discussing here. The Holy Spirit gives us this warning to show us the beauty of marriage, the importance of honoring marriage, and the importance of not defiling ourselves through sexual sin inside of marriage or out of the covenant of marriage. God honors marriage and He will judge all adultery and sexual immorality.

I would like to draw your attention to four things in the words, “Let marriage be held in honor among all…”. First, we are exhorted to ‘Let marriage be held in honor among all…”.

We have already spoken about the importance of making this an exhortation and a command, however, let me say a little bit more. It is easy to overlook the importance of the word ‘Let’; however, it carries with it the weight of a command that is to be responded to in faith and obeyed by the grace of God.

Let me give you an example of this. In James 1:5 we read, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God…”. These words seem to be little more than a suggestion that can either be done or not done. But did you know that James is giving a command in that verse? James is not giving a suggestion, an invitation, an opinion, a proposal, or a recommendation. No, he is giving us a command to obey.

Similarly, the exhortation in our text, ‘Let marriage be held in honor’, is to carry with it that sort of weight and gravity. Therefore, this text can help bring to an end many of the discussions, debates, and faulty attitudes regarding marriage that we hear today. There is a sentiment today concerning marriage that you can have your opinion and I can have mine; however, this is a command concerning certain biblical facts that are so clear that we can be assured that God will judge those who fail to believe and obey them!

The exhortation to ‘let marriage be held in honor’ means that all of us are to allow biblical marriages to be held in honor. A biblical marriage that is between a biological man and a biological woman is to be sanctioned and permitted to flourish in our society. Therefore, we are to use every means available for the health and success of our marriages.

No one is to forbid a marriage that scripture would sanction. No one is to hinder or thwart a biblical marriage from thriving. We are to greatly esteem the covenant of marriage. Every person, community, and government is to do everything in their power and ability to honor the institution of marriage and to see that they have every opportunity to flourish as God has designed them too through the giving of His Holy Spirit. No one is to say or to do anything that would undermine the marriage covenant. No one has the right or the authority to frustrate a marriage or sabotage a marriage covenant. This is exactly what our society is doing against the biblical view of marriage today.

More than ever we are to see that our marriages conform to the teachings of Scripture. Husbands you are to love your wife and be willing to lay down your life for her each and every day as the godly, humble and God fearing leader that God has called you to be. Wives you are to respect your husbands and submit to his leadership. You are not to discourage him in this but be his helpmate who will support him in this calling.

When the husband and wife fails to do this they are sinning and they are not honoring marriage. These sins need to be repented of so that our marriages are restored and can reflect the way that Christ is to His church.

Gospel Application: God commands all people to honor marriage; therefore, how much more is God at work to provide His support to our marriages. He gives us His grace and His presence for the success of all those who are in a marriage covenant and are seeking to honor Him in this marriage covenant.

Secondly, we are told to ‘Let marriage be held in honor among all...’.

Do you know what the word ‘marriage’ means? It means ‘to take, to grasp, and to take into’. It carries the sense of acquiring something by choice and through careful selection. Marriage is a lifelong covenant that is not to be entered into lightly. No, it is to be considered carefully and entered into prayerfully with a heart of reverence and awe before the LORD.

Scripture gives a wonderful expression of this in Genesis 2:20-25 where we read, The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

When God brings Eve to Adam He places her hand into Adam’s and they were joined together in marriage. We are told in Scripture, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” From that moment on they are to take a hold of and never let go.

Thirdly, we are told in Hebrews 13:4, ‘Let marriage be held in honor among all…”.

To honor marriage means that the marriage covenant is to be ‘highly respected’ and ‘greatly esteemed’. This word of often translated in scripture as ‘precious’ in other scriptures. For example, christians are saved and redeemed by the ‘precious’ blood of Jesus. Through Jesus we have received many great and ‘precious’ promises. And here marriage is one of God’s most ‘precious’ gifts to us and this covenant reflects how Christ loves and holds onto His bride.

We are to honor marriage because God established and honors marriage. We see this in Ephesians 5:23-27 when we read, “...Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”

Because the LORD honors the covenant of marriage He will never withhold any grace for the benefit of a marriage. Those who will seek Him in their marriages and honor Him in their marriages will experience a great blessing.

Finally, we told to, ‘Let marriage be held in honor among all”.

In Genesis 2 God looked upon Adam and said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” (2:18) Therefore, the LORD God created a woman and brought her to Adam. When Adam saw her he proclaimed, “This is at last bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of a man.” Immediately after this the LORD God declared, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother (marriage covenant) and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (23) Then we read these words in 2:25, “And the man and his wife (the marriage covenant) were both naked and were not ashamed.” What a beautiful picture of the honorable estate of marriage.

However,this beautiful picture was soon destroyed. Immediately after Adam’s disobedience marriage began to suffer dishonor. When the LORD God confronted Adam the first thing he did was to blame his precious wife for the trouble that they were now in. Adam said in 3:12, “The woman who you gave to be with me, she gave me the fruit of the tree, and I ate.”

Within moments of Adam’s sin he went from honoring his marriage to dishonoring his wife that God had given to him. Worse yet, Adam was now capable of speaking like this before the very presence and face of the LORD God who was Eve’s Father. Adam’s sin brought about such a distorted conscience that his heart and understanding was hardened and his conscience was so twisted that he could say these things to the LORD God and not feel any shame. In that moment, he did not repent; rather, he blamed another.

As I came to this text I understood that divorce, adultery and fornication have effected all of our lives and these things have effected the lives of our families. Since the fall of mankind into sin this topic on marriage and keeping the marriage bed undefiled always hits close to home. This command is an important message to all people because the covenant of marriage is always under attack by three things: indwelling sin, the sin in the world, and by the malice of Satan.

Those who are still in their sins, like Adam, may be bold enough and blind enough to say to God that they do not need to honor marriage. Those who are still in their sins may think that they do not have to worry about committing adultery and fornication. They harden their hearts and declare that God will not see and He would not care, but we are reminded today, “God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.”

However, the good news for all of us is that those who have repented and believed in Christ have been regenerated and have been made new. Even though we were at one time adulterers and fornicators we have now been made righteous and we act out of that new nature. The threat of judgment against us has been removed, we have been justified, and we have become members and inheritors of a new heavenly kingdom which looks so different than this sinful one. This being the case, how can we continue in sin any longer? We have come to Zion the city of the Living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.

Consider 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 which says, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

Those who have been washed and justified will grow in sanctification. More and more they will grow in the truth of the scriptures like these and they will by faith through grace honor marriage and keep the marriage bed from being defiled.

They will also seek to rescue those who are still outside the kingdom of God by proclaiming to them the gospel. They will also display the gospel in their marriages by honoring the covenants that they have made. Though biblical marriage is often looked down upon at this time a believer will give their bold support to marriages and honor them even when the world pressures us to compromise. This is the way that we will successfully preach to and display the gospel to a lost and confused world regarding these things. It is to this very thing that our text has exhorted us to do today.


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